The Royal Northern College of Music was a hive of youthful endeavour and excellence on the weekend, as 36 bands competed for the four titles on offer at the National Youth Championships of Great Britain.
They were headed by ‘Gold’ standard victories for Youth Brass 2000 and Wardle Academy Youth in the Championship and Intermediate categories, which will hopefully see both bands representing England at the European Youth Brass Band Championship in France in 2016.
Meanwhile, there was also golden success for Wales in the Junior Championship as Beaumaris Junior Band took the honours, whilst in the Beginners Section the ‘Band of the Day’ award went to the fantastic youngsters of Wardle Junior Blast.
With many of the bands making long journeys to Manchester, the action started early in the RNCM Theatre, with seven outstanding ensembles battling for glory in the Beginners Section.
Beaming smiles accompanied flint eyed levels of concentration as the audience as well as judges Simone Rebello and Derek Southcott enjoyed plenty of great playing in each 15 minute programme set.
In the end it was Wardle Junior Blast, resplendent in their bright red t-shirts that took the deserved 'Band of the Day' accolade with a wonderful performance full of controlled musicianship and choreographed brio.
The Lancastrians’s cleverly balanced programme of 'Circus Parade', 'My Heart Will Go On', 'Have Fingers Will Travel', 'Foolin' About' and 'Snake, Rattle ‘n’ Roll' had it all — so little wonder MD, Lee Rigg was as thrilled as any of his young players on claiming the title.
“They are such a great bunch,” he said. “It's wonderful to see children at this level enjoy themselves, doing their best and wanting to improve.
I can’t ask for a better job meeting up every Thursday for an hour after school with these players from the Wardle area. Their musicality is so full of enthusiasm it’s infectious!”
Defending champion, Ysgol Bontnewydd Primary also delivered a cracking programme to gain the 'Highly Commended' award, whilst Lions Beginners Brass took the ‘Band Showing Most Potential’ award.
There were also super shows from Lions Beginners Brass, Stockport Schools Junior Band, Macclesfield Youth Training and Great Western ‘Rising Stars’, all of who delighted the supportive audience with their bubbling enthusiasm and talent.
With compere Dave Hayward expertly engaging each band and their young players with the audience, the friendly, competitive atmosphere in the RNCM Theatre was wonderful.
It was therefore not surprising, both Simone and Derek spoke of their delight in hearing such high quality playing from ensembles led by conductors who had picked programmes that accurately reflected their band’s level of development — led by the most worthy of winners.
The refurbished RNCM Concert Hall hosted the eleven contenders in the Junior Championship, with Beaumaris Junior Band claiming the title under the youthful direction of Bethan Lowri Evans.
Their Gold Award victory was testament to the remarkable (and seemingly inexhaustible) vein of talent that is being nurtured in their part of North West Wales — with even the MD, part of a family line that stretches back close on half a century with the Anglesey band.
Bethan is the daughter of Gwyn Evans (who led Gwynedd & Mon in the Intermediate Section), and is now the driving force behind the latest Beaumaris Champion Band of Great Britain — so little wonder then that she celebrated with as much bubbling fizz as any of her 40 young players.
“It’s amazing,” she said through tearful eyes. “I took over the conducting duties in September last year and I love it — even though I’ve been ill all week.
The players pulled me through with their support and enthusiasm. They’ve worked so hard through their Easter holidays, so all the success is down to them.”
Their winning programme got off to high impact start with ‘Curtain Up!”, before moving through the hymn tune ‘Aurelia’, the Bee Gees hit, ‘Tragedy’ and the ‘Lion King’ pairing of ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ and ‘Circle of Life’.
Full of praise
Adjudicators Mark Harrison and Sheona White were full of praise for all the competitors — although they did point out the need to still concentrate on the basics — especially with hymn tune playing and dynamic contrasts.
No such problems though for the ‘clear winners’, whilst the duo also felt there were excellent performances from runner-up Stockport School’s Intermediate and defending champion, Fred Longworth High School, both of who gained deserved Gold Awards.
There was also a wide variety of music (from Abba and Kurt Weil, Philip Sparke to the Purple People Eater), plenty of cracking soloists and conducting talent on show too, as each band produced performances of merit.
Trombonist Toby Marshall from Stockport Schools Intermediate won the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ award for his suave performance of ‘Feelings’, whilst 12 year Max Lawrence certainly made an impression conducting Hope Bank Junior Band with startling virtuosity.
There was also a special mention for Chalford Youth Band under Steve Tubb, who took to the stage 46 players with an average age of just 12, to gain a Merit Award.
All in all it was a contest to savour from start to finish — led by a quite remarkable Welsh winning combination.
A high quality field of 12 intermediate competitors gave judges John Doyle and Ewan Easton plenty to think about before declaring Wardle Academy as 2015 champion, ahead of the excellent Gold Award winners of Elland Silver Youth, Gwynedd & Mon and Rochdale Borough Youth.
Both John and Ewan gave entertaining summaries prior to the results, stating that the overall standard had been ‘stunning’.
John’s cheeky challenge in offering £20 to soloists to try and perform without music next year will surely be eagerly taken up, whilst the judges also felt that Andrew Stevenson's set work, 'Plus Ultra', had been a fine choice — with just the right balance struck between asking players to display emerging musicality as well as technique.
No such problems for Bethan Plant of Elland Silver Youth, who claimed the ‘Best Instrumentalist’ prize for her stunning rendition of ‘The Paragon', whilst the overall quality of the competitors was shown with Aberystwyth Youth, Cardiff County & Vale of Glamorgan Youth and Macclesfield Youth all gaining Silver Awards.
However, for Wardle Academy MD, Lee Rigg, it proved a day that neither he nor his young players would forget in a long time, as they claimed a historic 2015 National/Butlins ‘Double’.
“I'm absolutely over the moon,” Lee told 4BR as he was still taking in their achievement on Monday. “All the credit goes to the players — not just for Sunday, but their commitment, passion and enthusiasm over the past few weeks.”
That has seen them give up their usual Easter holiday treats to get to rehearsals, whilst their forthcoming appearance at the European Championship means that there will be plenty of hard work to come under the direction of Sean Conway, who will lead the band in Freiburg.
“As I’m playing with Black Dyke, Sean has kindly offered to take over the reins,” Lee added. “The players deserve the reward of the trip to Germany, but none of it would be possible without the support of the parents and the Academy as a whole.”
His comments were echoed by Wardle School’s Director of Performing Arts, Janet Emsley: “We are so proud of the pupils. This isn't just a good news story for the school — it's something for everybody in Rochdale to be proud about.
Lee conducted the band, but the achievement of everybody connected with Wardle is down to a magnificent team, great support and a wonderful set of players.”
Wardle's winning programme saw them reprise some of their winning Butlins programme, with 'The Old Hundreth', the march, 'On the Quarter Deck' and 'I'll Walk With God' in addition to the set work.
In a contest that never once failed to capture the attention of the audience, there were fine performances from each competitor, whilst prior to the results, the Brian Hicks Memorial Award was given to Samantha Harrison of Elland Silver Youth for her outstanding commitment to banding.
Youth Brass 2000 underlined their high class credentials ahead of their forthcoming trip to the European Youth Championship in Freiburg, with a thrilling victory in the Blue Riband Championship Section.
Directed by Chris Jeans, they not only retained the title they won last year, but also made it a ‘National/British Open’ double with a programme that balanced a dramatic account of the set work, ‘The Saga of Tyrfing’, with the bold opening fanfare of ‘Deo Gloria’ and the subtle lyricism of ‘Best Instrumentalist’ award winner Thomas Fountain on ‘Idyll on an Irish Folk Tune’.
The victory will also see the band invited to represent England at the 2016 European event in France, although for the time being the MD was simply enjoying yet another victory for his remarkable band.
“I’m so proud of everyone associated with Youth Brass 2000,” he told 4BR. “We’ve been so busy over the past few months, but the success at the British Open and now here has made it all worthwhile. The players are amazing.
We will just have enough time to celebrate this victory before we start work on our trip to Freiburg, where we are determined to do our wonderful supporters proud.
Band Chairman Don Collins and his hard working committee have raised nearly £13,000 so that all the young players can represent their country with pride.”
Confidence and panache
All six competitors produced performances of great musical maturity, with judges Simone Rebello and Derek Southcott saying that the overall standard had been ‘excellent’, with a special mention to soloists who they thought ‘had owned the stage with their confidence and panache’.
That was certainly heard with the engaging repertoire — from Paul Lovatt-Cooper and Peter Graham to Vaughn Williams and a new premiere from Ian Raisbeck certainly showcasing each band’s growing potential.
The judges were also very realistic in their marking credentials, with only Youth Brass 2000 gaining a Gold Award, ahead of fine Silver Award accounts from runner-up, Lions Youth and third placed Greater Gwent Youth Band.
There was also a Silver Award for Northamptonshire Youth with Bronze Awards going to Stockport Schools Senior and Oldham Music Centre.
Something to build on
Event organisers Brass Bands England will have been delighted at the quality as well as quantity of performers who attended this year’s event — helped by the excellent work of the BBE event team of Gary Walzack, Arnold Tattersfield and Sally Coleman (not forgetting Paul Duffy on entertaining form).
However, BBE Chairman Mike Kilroy did admit to 4BR that there was still a great deal of progress to be made with the event and within the BBE organisation itself.
Next year's contest will be Sunday 17th April with 'The Mansions of Glory' by Jonathan Bates set to test the Championship Section bands and an as yet un-named work from Ryan Howells, the Ty Cerdd Young Composer 2014, set for the Intermediate Section.
It's wonderful to see children at this level enjoy themselves, doing their best and wanting to improveLee Rigg, MD Wardle Junior Blast
RNCM Concert Hall
‘The Saga of Tyrfing’ (Jacob Wilhelm Larsen) and Own Choice Programme. 20 minutes playing time.
Adjudicators: Simone Rebello and Derek Southcott
1. Youth Brass 2000 (Chris Jeans) (Gold)*
2. Lions Youth Brass (Nigel Birch) (Silver)
3. Greater Gwent Youth Brass Band (Gareth Ritter) (Silver)
Northamptonshire Youth Brass Band (Brad Turnbull) (Silver)
Oldham Music Centre Youth Brass Band (Jonathan Leedale) (Bronze)
Stockport Schools Senior (Tim Dines) (Bronze)
Best Instrumentalist: Thomas Fountain (cornet) Youth Brass 2000
*Youth Brass 2000 receives an invitation to represent England at European Youth Championships in Lille in 2016
Plus Ultra (Andrew Stevenson) and Own Choice programme.
20 minutes playing time
Adjudicators: John Doyle and Ewan Easton
1. Wardle Academy Youth (Lee Rigg) (Gold)*
2. Elland Silver Youth Band (Samantha Harrison) (Gold)
3. Gwynedd & Mon (Gwyn Evans) (Gold)
Best Instrumentalist: Bethan Plant, Cornet (Elland Silver Youth)
Brian Hicks Memorial Trophy: Samantha Harrison (Elland Silver Youth)
Rochdale Borough Youth (Ben Dixon)
Aberystwyth Youth (Alan Philips)
Cardiff County & Vale of Glamorgan Youth Brass Band (Charles Maynard)
Macclesfield Youth (Louise Renshaw)
Enderby Youth Band (Trevor Hounsome)
Milton Keynes Youth Brass (David Rose)
Tewit Youth (Malcolm Dibb)
Hope Bank Youth (Simon Wood)
Rotherham Schools (Jeremy Wade)
*Wardle Academy Youth receives an invitation to represent England at European Youth Championships in Lille in 2016
RNCM Concert Hall
Own Choice programme that must include one piece of music composed for brass band and two verses of a hymn tune.
15 minutes playing time.
Adjudicators: Sheona White and Mark Harrison
1. Beaumaris Junior Band (Bethan Lowri Evans) (Gold)
2. Stockport Schools Intermediate Brass Band (Owen Garbutt) (Gold)
3. Fred Longworth High School (Helen Robinson) (Gold)
Band Showing Most Potential: Chalford Youth (Steve Tubb)
Best Instrumentalist: Toby Marshall (Trombone) Stockport Schools Intermediate
Bolton Junior Brass Band (Anna Hughes-Williams)
Lions Junior Brass (Tom Hancock)
Denbighshire Area Band (John S Powell)
Tewit Youth Intermediate Band (Steve Heningham)
Chalford Youth (Steve Tubb)
Gawthorpe Youth (Adam Bell)
Hope Bank Junior (Max Lawrence)
Macclesfield Youth Junior Band (Tim Grindey)
Own Choice Programme.
15 minutes playing time
Adjudicators: Simone Rebello and Derek Southcott
Band of the Day: Wardle Junior Blast (Lee Rigg)
Band with Most Potential: Lions Beginner Brass (Christopher Thompson)
Highly Commended: Ysgol Bontnewydd Primary (Dylan Williams)
Stockport Schools Junior (Marrianne Garbutt/ Steve Cavanagh)
Macclesfield Youth Training (Liz Hudson)
Great Western 'Rising Stars' Band (John Winterflood)
Elland Silver Starter Band (David Armitage)